Even Liberal Economists Are Skeptical of Bernie Sanders

There aren’t too many things economists all agree on; unlike in the natural sciences, one’s perspective on economics often depends heavily on how one understands human behavior, incentives, and psychology. This is why you have such strident differences of opinion between left- and right-leaning economists on issues like the minimum wage, tax policy, and the ability of government spending to stimulate the economy.

However, there are a few things on which economists of all ideological stripes share near-universal approval, for example, the benefits of free trade. Now, it appears as if economists can unify over something new, namely, that the the policies proposed by Sen. Bernie Sanders simply don’t add up.

As the New York Times is reporting, some of the economics profession’s leading liberals are raising questions about Bernie Sanders’ proposals for a single-payer health care system and free college, claiming his cost projections far underestimate the reality of such programs.

Henry J. Aaron of the Brookings institute supports a single-payer health care system, but called Sanders’ proposal a “fairy tale.” Jared Bernstein, former adviser to Vice President Joe Biden, called Sanders’ cost projections “wishful thinking”. Perhaps most telling, former Obama adviser Austan Goolsbee, famous for his progressivism, colorfully dismissed Sanders’ agenda as “magic flying puppies with winning Lotto tickets tied to their collars.”

The Bernie Sanders wish list would increase the total size of government by more than 15 percent, requiring between two and three trillion dollars in additional spending every year. It’s unclear where he plans to get that much money, since there simply aren’t enough rich people to fund such a shortfall, even if you ignore the incentive effects of imposing higher tax rates.

Liberals are fond of citing a famous quote by former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” Typically,is this brought up in reference to the supposed Republican “science deniers,” but here one of their favorite quips can be fairly used against Bernie Sanders and the socialist wing of the Democratic Party. Even liberal economists agree that there’s simply no way to pay for the outlandish promises made by socialism.

As a postscript, it’s worth noting that Vermont, a the ultra-blue state from which Sanders hailed, tried to implement a program of socialized medicine similar to what Sanders is proposing. Almost immediately, they were forced to give up on the idea as too expensive to actually work.

THere are plenty of reasons to reject socialism – not the least of which is a basic respect for human freedom – but if nothing else, we should at least acknowledge that the numbers don’t lie. Eventually, you run out of other people’s money.